Everyone, please welcome Fonda Lee to Rich in Color! Fonda’s new sci-fi book, EXO, is out today, and we’re thrilled to be part of her book tour. (You can find all the other stops on the tour–including other interviews, reviews, excerpts, and a guest post–by checking out the tour schedule at the end of the post.) There’s also a U.S. only giveaway for the book, which you can enter through the widget at the end of the interview.
If you love science fiction, you should consider adding EXO to your reading list! Here’s the summary:
It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.
When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip. But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .
Find it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Goodreads
Now on to the interview!
Tell us more about the aliens you created for EXO and your world-building process for a conquered Earth.
The aliens in Exo are called the zhree. I wanted them to be very different from humans in appearance yet enough like humans in character that it was eminently plausible that the two species could work together. So I decided they needed to be land dwelling, highly social creatures with vocal language and dexterous appendages. Everything else was left up to my imagination. The zhree (or “shrooms” as some humans call them) have dome-shaped torsos, six limbs, six eyes, fins, and super strong flexible armor over their bodies.
In creating the world of Exo, I thought a lot about how Earth might have changed in the aftermath of alien arrival and global war. In movies, aliens often arrive over New York or another big city, but why would new explorers set down somewhere already densely infested with natives? I set the alien cities in sparsely populated places: Mongolia, Patagonia, the Australian outback, and here in North America, smack on the prairie on the border of Wyoming and Nebraska. And then I imagined how, over the course of a hundred years, war refugees and those privileged enough to work with the new governors would all flock to those sites and the world would be drastically reshaped by alien presence.
What can you tell us about the main character (Donovan) and his exocel?
Donovan is a young man with a tough job, who genuinely wants to do the right thing—he just isn’t always sure what that is. And navigating the moral dilemmas of the world he lives in just gets harder and harder for him. Donovan’s been raised to have a strong sense of duty and responsibility, but he’s also aware of the fact that he’s part of a privileged class. At a young age, he was Hardened—he went through a dangerous procedure that endowed him with an exocel, an alien biotechnology that gives his body a flexible, invulnerable armor that makes him stronger and much longer-lived. His status as an exo and as the son of a powerful political figure mean that he’s very much invested in the alien-governed world, but he’s also forced to come to grips with the violence, inequity, and problems associated with it.
Donovan has a conflicted identity: the aliens see him as human, but other humans see him as alien. My editor pointed out that his situation is in many ways a metaphor for mixed-race or second generation kids. I had no idea I was doing that, but given my own identity as the child of immigrants, I realized that she was right: my own experience had seeped into my protagonist’s character.
Your bio says that you have black belts in karate and kung fu. There were several great fight scenes in your previous book, Zeroboxer–can we expect intense fight scenes in EXO, too?
I promise Exo is just as action-packed, but in a different way. Zeroboxer is full of hand-to-hand combat, so in writing it, I relied heavily on my own martial arts background and watched an awful lot of UFC. Exo has a much more military sensibility, with firearms and dangerous missions and explosions. I’m neither a soldier nor a firearms expert myself, so I read a lot of military memoir, went to gun demonstrations, and did research. I enjoy all sorts of fight scenes; writing them is always a pleasure for me.
What was the most difficult aspect of writing EXO? What has the most rewarding part been?
The most difficult aspect of writing Exo was setting it up as the first book in a potential series while still delivering a story that was entirely satisfying on its own. My first book, Zeroboxer, was a standalone, so I hadn’t faced this challenge before. At the time, I didn’t know if my publisher would want a sequel to Exo so I needed to lay the foundation and keep that door open without leaving readers hanging at the end. It took quite a bit of revision for me to nail that balance to my and my editor’s satisfaction.
The most rewarding part of writing Exo has been, honestly, confirming that I can do this writing thing as a career. It’s difficult to write and publish a book; it’s more difficult to sit down and do it again. And again. And again. If you can still love writing and be motivated after the debut process, I think that says something. The second book is hard; writing Exo gave me confidence I have lots more books in me.
Both EXO and Zeroboxer are science fiction. What draws you to tell science fiction stories? Are there other genres you’d like to explore soon?
I’ve loved science fiction ever since I was a kid. I can blame my dad—he told me that he used to hold me in his lap as a baby while watching Star Trek original series reruns. Science fiction can be a very fun, entertaining genre full of cool futuristic gadgets and rollicking adventure, but it’s also, I would argue, the absolute best genre for exploring ideas about our world and society. The potential to both thrill readers and make them think is what draws me so strongly to the genre over and over again.
That said, I’m a fantasy writer as well so you’ll see me cross between science fiction and fantasy, YA and adult. I have no desire to write in any other genre; I have too many sci-fi and fantasy ideas already!
Why is diversity in young adult fiction important to you?
It’s more realistic. I know that sounds like a particularly blunt and unsentimental reason, but it’s true. Our society is diverse and growing more so. Fiction reflects truth; fiction should reflect diversity. As a science fiction writer, it’s my job to look at the world as it is and make plausible extrapolations into the future. Imaginary worlds are mirrors into our own. So, to me, it’s especially important to champion diversity in genre fiction because all people need to be able to see themselves as protagonists.
What books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to this year?
I’ve got my eyes on Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien, Want by Cindy Pon, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, and Warcross by Marie Lu.
What’s ahead for you? Are you able to share anything you’re currently writing/revising?
I’m hard at work on Exo 2, which will be out in the summer of 2018!
3 winners will receive a finished copy of EXO, US Only.
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Fonda Lee writes science fiction and fantasy for teens and adults. Her debut novel, Zeroboxer was an Andre Norton Award finalist, Jr. Library Guild Selection, ALA Top 10 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, Oregon Book Award finalist, and Oregon Spirit Book Award winner. Her second novel, Exo, releases from Scholastic in February 2017.
Fonda wrote her first novel, about a dragon on a quest for a magic pendant, in fifth grade during the long bus ride to and from school each day. Many years later, she cast her high school classmates as characters in her second novel, a pulpy superhero saga co-written with a friend by passing a graphing calculator back and forth during biology class. Fortunately, both of these experiments are lost to the world forever.
Fonda is a former corporate strategist who has worked for or advised a number of Fortune 500 companies. She holds black belts in karate and kung fu, goes mad for smart action movies (think The Matrix, Inception, and Minority Report) and is an Eggs Benedict enthusiast. Born and raised in Calgary, Canada, she currently resides in Portland, Oregon.
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